Sandbox Composer Residencies
A mold-breaking model for new music
Gabriela Lena Frank
The 2022.23 season will bring the launch of the SPCO’s Sandbox Composer Residency program — a new initiative for engaging composers and community in the creation of new music. Over the next several seasons, three composers will participate in innovative and intensive multi-week residencies with the SPCO, in a program designed to foster a spirit of shared discovery and the creation of a significant body of new music. Viet Cuong, Clarice Assad, Gabriela Lena Frank and Valerie Coleman have been selected to work with SPCO musicians as the inaugural Sandbox composers.
In a divergence from the industry standard of commissioning individual works, the Sandbox Residencies will provide support for composers to experiment freely across a variety of new works created in collaboration with the musicians of the SPCO. This alternative residency model will focus on building lasting relationships between the SPCO and resident composers by allowing composers to workshop new pieces, experiment and revise, take risks, develop relationships with SPCO musicians and engage with SPCO audiences.
The guiding principle of Sandbox is to grant composers the creative license to write and rehearse new music in a collaborative setting. The central belief behind Sandbox is that when composers are given this creative license to share compositions with audiences through workshops, post-concert sessions and, ultimately, subscription concerts, the resulting spirit of play, creativity and discovery can lead to a paradigm shift for orchestral music and ground the art form in the present rather than the past. Sandbox composers will write at least one work for the full SPCO ensemble, plus several solo or chamber music works. Through various Sandbox Sessions and workshops, resident composers will engage performers and audiences in the compositional process. Post-concert talk-backs from the stage will allow the composer and performers to share music and context with the audience in a more informal setting. In lieu of the standard commission-based model by which an orchestra hires a composer to write one piece of music for a specific performance, the Sandbox model will allow for the orchestra and the composer to be more flexible, working with and inspired by each other to create a body of music reflective of our times while allowing for deeper, long-lasting connections between audience, performers and composers in a shared experience of collaborative music-making.
One of the inspirations for this approach is a quote from Franz Joseph Haydn about the working environment that allowed him to almost single-handedly invent the symphonic form. In the height of his career as a musician, Haydn worked as a court musician for the Austrian noble Esterházy family. While serving as Kapellmeister, or music director, Haydn famously said about the circumstances of his role:
As head of an orchestra I could try things out, observe what creates a [good] effect and what weakens it, and thus revise, make additions or cuts, take risks. I was cut off from the world, nobody in my vicinity could upset my self-confidence…so I had no choice but to become original.
The Esterházy court orchestra, therefore, was the “sandbox” that inspired nearly thirty years of compositions. Now, some 250 years later, the SPCO Sandbox Residencies, as inspired by Haydn’s own Esterházy residency, afford a diverse group of composers the opportunity to unleash their creativity and bring forth a body of exciting new music.
SPCO Sandbox Composer Residencies are made possible with generous project support from:
The Aaron Copland Fund for Music
Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University
David and Karen Olson Family Foundation
Justus and Elizabeth Schlichting